Venezuela Officials Question Bush’s Remarks on Referendum, Cite Lack of Morals

"In Venezuela, the winner is the one who obtains the most votes," was the response of Venezuelan officials to President Bush's demands for transparency in the upcoming recall referendum process

Caracas, Jul 21 ( Venezuelan government officials questioned recent remarks by U.S. President George W. Bush with regard to the upcoming recall referendum on the mandate of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

On Monday, after meeting with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos at the White House, Bush demanded that the recall referendum in Venezuela “be conducted in an honest and open way,” and demanded the presence of international observers.

“The influence of President Lagos is a very important influence, because he has made it clear that for the credibility of the current government [of Venezuela], they must welcome observers, they must encourage observers, and they must not interfere with the process, so that the people of Venezuela have a chance to express their opinion without fear of reprisal,” said Bush.

Lagos has recently praised Chavez for his “courage” when committing to the recall process.

Bush’s comments ironically came just days after the U.S. Congress approved an amendment barring any U.S. funds from being used by the United Nations to monitor U.S. elections. The amendment was issued in response to a petition by several U.S. lawmakers for the U.N. to send observers to monitor the U.S. election in order to avoid another “Florida coup d’état,” according to Representative Corrine Brown.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, said last Friday that Washington is monitoring the Venezuelan situation to determine whether Venezuelans “are going to have a right to decide or whether their democracy is going to be tainted by the actions of people who want to use violence, the actions of people who want to close down the media, and the actions of people who want to restrict political activity.”

“No moral authority”

Venezuelan President Chavez rejected Bush’s remarks saying the U.S. President’s lacks the moral authority to lecture Venezuela with regard to elections. “They said they will continue to pressure to guarantee that the recall process be transparent, can you tell me which transparent process allowed Mr. Bush to win the U.S. presidential elections?… With what moral authority is he trying to lecture us?,” Chavez asked during a speech.

Last Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with a delegation of Brazilian intelectuals, artists, and a Catholic Bishop who presented him with a document signed by 70 other personalities in his support.
Credit: Venpres

Chavez has leaned on the recent surfacing of evidence of US government financing for Venezuelan opposition groups through the National Endowment for Democracy, to accuse Bush of seeking his ouster.

The U.S. insistence on the presence of observers may be seem unjustified by many, as the Venezuela recall referendum seems to be one of the most closely-monitored electoral processes in the world in recent years. The U.S. based Carter Center, the Organization of American States and 47 other international observer missions have been invited from all around the world to monitor the Aug 15 referendum. Also, numerous international celebrities such as Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Barbra Streisand, Danny Glover, Michael Moore, Rigoberta Menchu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Joseph Stiglitz, among others, have been invited as observers.

Diego Cordovez, the United Nations Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Latin American Issues, is currently on five-day mission to Venezuela to monitor the recall process. “Secretary Anan has been following the Venezuela recall situation very closely,” UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said to reporters.

Foreign Ministry also reacts

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement assuring that the recall process is being conducted in a transparent manner.

“President Chavez guarantees the citizens of Venezuela and the international community, the transparency of the upcoming electoral process because the arbiter [the National Electoral Council] is an independent branch of government that is conducting its job without any interference from the Executive. Likewise, President Chavez has repeatedly said publicly that he will respect any decision by the National Electoral Council,” says the statement.

The Foreign Ministry highlighted the seven electoral processes held in Venezuela since 1998, as proof that Venezuela’s Constitutional rule guarantees and will continue guaranteeing the right to vote and the respect for the opinion of the majority.

“It is impossible that in Venezuela, especially after the coup d’etat sponsored by imperialist powers, the people’s will could be subverted. President Chavez is fully interested in a just and transparent electoral process, as he is the main beneficiary of it. In this case, Venezuela is an example for Mr. Bush’s government to follow,” said the official statement.

The Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. government financing of Venezuelan opposition groups through the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. “A lack of transparency and democracy, and a reiterated indifference towards a balanced relation between two countries, is expressed by the financial support for organizations that openly participated in condemnable acts against Venezuela’s democracy.”

The Ministry’s statement ended by saying that “in Venezuela, the winner is the one who obtains the most votes,” in indirect relation to the fact that George W. Bush became President of the United States in spite of not obtaining the majority of the votes in the 2.000 elections.

Recall: “a battle against Bush”

National Assembly deputy Tarek William Saab added that “Chavez is battling against the most powerful empire on earth, and proof of it is this new interference by President Bush, who committed fraud to win the U.S. elections.” Saab, who is a member of President Chavez’s MVR party, also said that the U.S. did not accept outside observers during the controversial 2000 elections. “It is immoral for Bush to lecture us on elections, after we have held seven electoral processes since Chavez was elected as president, all closely monitored by international observers,” said Saab. The lawmaker added that “Venezuelan voters know that the recall struggle that Chavez is going to soon win, will be fought not against the local opposition, but against Bush.”

Former Venezuelan diplomat Milagros Betancourt, told a local TV station that Bush’s recommendations were not an interference in Venezuelan internal affairs. Betancourt, who advises the opposition umbrella group Coordinadora Democratica, accused Chavez of using Bush’s statements to distract people’s attention from domestic problems.

Bush’s statements “cynical”

Minister of Information Jesse Chacón dismissed Bush’s statements as “cynical”. “Our democracy is much more open than theirs because the Venezuelan people elect their rulers directly, not through delegates who in turn choose the rulers,” said the official. Chacon accused Bush of being elected through massive fraud in the U.S. state of Florida.